My mother always told me never to show up at someone's house empty handed. Since I always, well . . . sometimes listened to her, I made it a habit of taking flowers to my hosts when I was invited to a get together. As I got a little older I tried to get a bit more creative by changing things up with a CD, a nice bottle of wine, or sometimes a gift from my kitchen.
Now that my daughter is old enough to be entertained by her friends, I want to pass on to her some of the fun gift ideas that I've discovered and maybe help some of you out there in the process too. One of my first suggestions would have to be for honeycomb toffee. With just a couple of ingredients and half an hour or so you have a wonderful homemade treat that anyone would love to receive and it only costs pennies to make.
Honeycomb, or cinder toffee as it is also known, is quite common in the UK, but mostly unheard of here in the States. This simple, sweet treat has a light, airy, bubbly texture and rich golden color which gives it the appearance of a bee's honeycomb, hence the name.
To dress up this simple treat, I like to package mine in bowls that I find at discount stores or antique markets, but if I don't have anything like that around I like to use take out containers that I get from my favorite Asian restaurant. I also like to drizzle it in chocolate if I've got some extra time and a few chocolate chips in the pantry.
Now that the holidays are here, I hope this recipe gives your wallet a break and inspires you to give your friends and family a gift from your kitchen. Whether you need a last minute Christmas gift or a little something for your host, this will definitely be a stand out from the same old thing.
When preparing for this post I tried a couple of different recipes that I really liked. The first one (see top photo) made a TON of candy which was great if you are cooking for an army which I was not. The second one from Nigella Lawson was just right to fill a bowl or a couple of take out containers. Even though I really liked Nigella's, I thought that it needed a tablespoon of honey to give it a little flavor, afterall it is called HONEYcomb. If you don't like honey or don't have any on hand, straight light corn syrup will still produce good results. I've also reduced the baking soda in her recipe by 1/4 teaspoon because I thought it was a little too light if you can imagine that.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey (or omit this and add 1 additional tablespoon of corn syrup)
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 - 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Prepare a 9 x 13" baking dish by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray, lining it with parchment paper and then spraying it once again with the cooking spray; set aside
In a large size sauce pan (you will need room for at least triple expansion) stir together the sugar honey and/or corn syrup. Place over a medium high heat and allow to come to a full rolling boil. Cook (without stirring at all as it will make your recipe fail) until the syrup starts to turn a golden brown around the edges. Deciding when to take the sugar off the heat is the hardest part of this recipe. If you don't cook it long enough it can be gummy. If you cook the sugar too long as it can take on a burnt, bitter flavor. Nigella said that this step takes her about 3 minutes, but mine took approximately 8.
Remove the syrup from the heat (things will start happening quickly now) and while whisking vigorously, add the baking soda all at once. After whisking it all in, the mixture will foam and triple in size. Quickly pour the mixture into the prepared pan. At this point the mixture will start to rise again and be very hot so just set it aside, let it cool completely and enjoy the show (you'll know what I mean when you make it). Once cool, remove it from the pan, peel off the parchment and chip into pieces.
Nigella suggests giving this as a gift too (great minds do think alike) and she says it is great crushed and sprinkled over ice cream. If you'd like to add a little chocolate to yours like I did here, just follow these simple instructions:
Heat about 3 - 4 ounces of milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir. Add a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil and stir again before returning it to the microwave. Continue heating and stirring every 20 - 30 seconds until it is melted. Place candy on a tray lined with a piece of parchment or waxed paper. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the candy with a teaspoon in back and forth sweeping motions. You can now let it sit for an hour or two for the chocolate to harden or place in the refrigerator to speed things up. This will take about 30 minutes - 1 hour. No matter how you serve it, keep it in an airtight container and consume within a couple of days.
One final note from my kitchen. As you can tell from my photos I experimented with the thickness of my toffee. For the thicker toffee I used a 9 x 9" pan. For the thinner toffee I used a 9 x 13". One thing my family agreed on was that we liked it best on the thinner side. Since it is super sweet and very crunchy, we thought the portions were better on the smaller side and it was easier to eat.